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Gig Review : British Lion with Airforce: The Queens Hall,

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Review by Pete Finn for MPM

After over three weeks of my enforced absence, courtesy of the dreaded lurghi, myself and MPM Tog Manny are back on the road. Albeit a rather snowy one, after an afternoon of the free-falling white stuff.

Luckily, we’re in a four-wheel drive vehicle, our back up plan for any problems, is for me to ring my wife and she’ll come and get us in the JCB Fastrac. Thankfully tonight it’s a relatively local trip to the other side of ‘The Shire’ and it sees us cross the Warwickshire border and arrive at The Queen’s Hall in Nuneaton, a tidy 300+ capacity venue.

Tonight, is a bit special, tonight we are here to see British Lion, who have a very well-known bass player, Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris. In fact, there will be two members of Iron Maiden performing tonight, as support act for the gig is Airforce, who include former drummer Doug Sampson, who played with Maiden between 1978 and 1979, and played on ‘The Soundhouse Tapes’ Demos.

This set of shows were put together after British Lion decided not to tour with The Darkness, but still wanted to do some shows, so we have a 17 date ‘Club and Pub’ Winter Tour.

Airforce consists of original founding members, Chop Pitman (guitar), Tony Hatton (bass) and Doug Sampson (drums) and they were joined in 2018 by vocalist Flavio Lino.

‘Fight’ is the opening song of the set, it’s from The Black Box Recordings: Volume 1, it has a real punchy riff, it sets the tone for their show, I think I’m going to like this.

It’s -3 Degrees outside, Flavio and Tony are wearing shorts…After telling us that they formed as part of the NWOBHM scene it’s straight into ‘Life Turns To Dust’ Flavio gets the crowd to join in with a few ‘Hey, Hey, Hey’s this is a slower paced track, with Chop’s pulsating riff, steady rhythmic beats, Flavio is almost talking the lyrics, in a Rob Halford of Judas Priest style. A bit of pre-gig research discovered that Flavio took part in Portugal’s version of The Voice performing Judas Priest’s ‘Painkiller’.

‘Son of The Damned’ is a real heavy metal track, pounding beats from Sampson and Hatton, fast and furious guitar work from Pitman and screaming vocals, there’s more fist pumps and audience participation, this is good. There are a lot of people in here who are Airforce fans, and I can see why.

The Reaper’ has a Thin Lizzy/Motley Crüe vibe, which is a mighty fine combination, couple that with Flavio’s piercing vocal and you’re in for one hell of a party. Chop Pitman’s finger work for the solo is a blur, the crowd respond with the ‘Devil Horns’. One thing is for sure, any snow settled on the roof has been shaken off by Airforce.

‘Heroes’ starts with a wailing Air Raid Siren, and after hearing the strength of Flavio’s voice, I’m pretty sure he could mimic it. A classic heavy riff and beat, powers this track, just like the Merlin engine that powered the Avro Lancaster. Before ‘Band of Brothers’, we’re told that this song is dedicated to the ‘Metal Family’, it’s a slower, darker track about fighting together, for each other.

It’s the final two songs of the set, and we’re asked if we’d like ‘Pop’ songs or ‘Fast’ songs, everyone shouts ‘Fast’ and another Rob Halford scream starts ‘Finest Hour’. Airforce close their set tonight with ‘Sniper’ a song that was originally recorded with Paul Di’Anno, this track matches the power and ferocity of a sniper’s high velocity rifle, it hits you straight between the eyes. A great finale.

A lot of the crowd in here tonight were Airforce fans and knew the words to the songs. Although it’s very difficult not to hear Iron Maiden in Airforce, they’re definitely not a tribute band, they have all their own songs, good strong songs. I like Iron Maiden, and after seeing Airforce for the first time tonight, I like Airforce too.

Setlist: Fight; Life Turns to Dust; Son of The Damned; The Reaper; Heroes; Band of Brothers; Finest Hour; Sniper

British Lion are Richard Taylor (vocals), David Hawkins (guitar/keyboards), Grahame Leslie (guitar), Simon Dawson (drums) and Steve Harris (bass).

The band have released two albums, the first as a Steve Harris solo project, ‘British Lion’, the second ‘The Burning’ eight years later in January 2020, as British Lion. Think more along the lines of UFO and Golden Earring classic rock than Iron Maiden’s heavy metal.

Once they have managed to squeeze themselves onto the stage, they open with ‘This Is My God’ from the debut album which almost has an electro feel to it, a bit U2 ‘Achtung Baby’ or ‘Zooropa’ era. ‘City of Fallen Angels’ from ‘The Burning’ has a punk pace about it, but a real classic rock solo provided by David Hawkins towards the latter half. One thing that is very apparent after the two opening tracks is that vocalist Taylor, has phenomenal control and variety in his voice.

Steve Harris is wearing his customary shorts and ‘Whale Oil Beef Hooked’ vest, with his West Ham coloured guitar strap and wrist bands. He is the founding member of one of the biggest, most successful Heavy Metal bands in the world and British Lion maybe a band he put together, but tonight he’s just the bass player of a rock band playing in a venue not much bigger than your lounge at home. Respect.

‘Judas’ sees Richard Taylor grab his acoustic guitar, it’s is a mid-tempo number, with the strong heartbeat of Simon Dawson drums. It slows down further, leaving Taylor to caress our ears, just before the rhythm section pull them off in a crescendo finish. ‘Father Lucifer’ is a good old-fashioned classic rock song, this has Steve Harris’ pounding bass all the way through, leading to a fine piece of fret work from David Hawkins.

Still from ‘The Burning’ it’s the title track, apparently, it’s a true story. We have Harris in familiar pose, foot on the monitor, ‘shooting’ the crowd with his bass and singing every word. The beat creates an image of the cavalry charging into battle, we clap along sounding like galloping hoofs. ‘Legend’ is a slower number, with a sound that gives a gentle nod in appreciation to UFO, it’s very melodic and has an underlying vocal harmony that ties everything together. Taylor gives us the chance to join in with a chorus of ‘Wo-ahs’.

The next track sees us step back to the 2012 ‘British Lion’ album, with ‘These Are the Hands’ about Taylors home town, a steady Dawson drum beat carries Taylors vocal aloft, almost like a crowd surfer glides above the audience, support and strength. There weren’t any crowd surfers tonight, actually it was more of a ‘Silver Surfer’ demographic, but we raised our hands anyway. ‘Spit Fire’ the first British Lion song that Taylor heard on the radio, starts with a minstrel story telling style vocal intro, leading into a Harris beat that is punctuated with David Hawkins’ lead breaks, this is the only British Lion track I heard that made me think of Iron Maiden. Midway through the band stop, a fight has broken out at the back of the hall, security deal with it quickly and efficiently. The band restart seamlessly at the chorus and power on to the finish.

‘The Chosen Ones’ from the first album, a song written for ‘The Underdogs’, gets the crowd bouncing and punching the air along to the beat. This has all the parts of a truly classic rock song, driving beat, great Grahame Leslie guitar breaks and strong vocal. We all sing back as Taylor points his mic at the crowd. This one went down very well in Nuneaton tonight. ‘Land of The Perfect People’ has a gentle Taylor acoustic intro, another song that demonstrates the range and strength of Taylor’s voice, the complementing Leslie guitar skills drive this track along.

‘Bible Black’ is the fifth and most recent single taken from ‘The Burning’, from the hi-hat cymbal and quick riff intro, you know this is going to be a rollercoaster ride of a track, the drums and bass push you to the highest point, then as you go over the edge the vocals kick in and you reach maximum velocity, the track continues with the rise and falls in tempo, keeping you on the rails…but only just.

The Leslie/Hawkins tag team guitar solos spin and twist your senses, then you take the final dive into the finish. All you want to do, is get your breath back then run around to the start and get on again. Taylor is like a boxer pre-fight shadow boxing and bouncing throughout. My track of the night.

‘Lightning’ has a hypnotic David Hawkins guitar intro that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand, short forks of guitar flashes and thunderous drums and bass add to the atmospheric feel. ‘Us Against the World’ was released on video nine years ago to the day. A powerful and passionate track, with an awesome beat and singing guitars, it’s fast then slow, the band are zig-zagging back and forwards across the stage, like a perfectly choreographed Red Arrows display, a fantastic achievement on such a small stage.

It calms down a bit for the lullaby intro to ‘Last Chance’ an opportunity for Leslie to demonstrate real guitar ability. The calm doesn’t last long before the alarm goes off and the ground shakes to Steve Harris’ bass. Harris is orchestrating the crowd in handwaving, clapping and ‘Wo-ahs’.

The ‘not leaving the stage’ Encore begins with the band introductions, ‘A World Without Heaven’ from the original British Lion album, is a seven minute epic, a real classic rock song, a homage to the likes of Thin Lizzy and UFO, the band are enjoying this one a lot, and the way the crowd are joining in and jumping they are too.

The final song of the night is ‘Eyes of The Young’, again from the first album, a proper feel good, ‘Send them home happy’ track. Is it a reflection back to the early years, when hopes and dreams are there to be achieved? If British Lions hopes and dreams were to write excellent rock tracks, giving people an opportunity to enjoy the work of great musicians, and have a bloody good time. Then look no further than here in Nuneaton tonight. Gents you have achieved them, and we are grateful for the hard work.

Hopefully it won’t be another eight years until the next album. See them now whilst there’s still a few shows left on this tour, if you can’t, then there’s another chance at Download next summer.

Setlist: This Is My God; City of Fallen Angels; Judas; Father Lucifer; The Burning; Legend; These Are the Hands; Spit Fire; The Chosen Ones; Land of The Perfect People; Bible Black; Lightning; Us Against the World; Last Chance; A World Without Heaven; Eyes of The Young

Review by Manny Manson for MPM

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